Ice Arena Provides Site For Fire Command Center, Base Camp
The Park City Ice Arena and sports fields are serving as the command post and temporary home to hundreds of firefighters and coordinators.
Great Basin Team No. 4, a federal incident management team, has brought about 50 people to the facility from all over Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming. The team coordinates the fight against the blaze all day and sleeps in tents on the fields at night.
Also staying in tents there are about 150 firefighters from federal, state and local agencies around the country.
Nick Howell, a spokesperson for Team No. 4 who came up from Cedar City, says it’s an ideal all-in-one site for sending out information and setting up camp.
“I oftentimes refer to fire camp as a ‘mini-city,’” said Nick Howell, a spokesperson for Team No. 4 who came up from Cedar City. “You’ve got all these tents on the grass – those are where the team members are camping. Then, you’ve got this area where the crews pull off the line around 10:00 at night. They come back here, we feed them, and then they can set up their tents or their sleeping bags on the grass as well.”
The days begin at 6 a.m. with general briefings. Then, firefighters grab breakfast and lunch delivered by a national catering service before heading to the edge of the fire. At the scene, they’re briefed with more specific information in groups.
From there, most crews hike through rocky slopes and tangled bushes and trees, carrying heavy packs and tools for clearing vegetation.
Their job is to clear all vegetation to form a line all the way around the fire. A team with chainsaws leads and cuts through, while another team hauls away the brush.
Meanwhile, at the ice arena, Team No. 4 monitors and coordinates the ground and air crews. They follow digital map systems to tell firefighters what’s around them and where to go.
The incident team also has a medical unit for minor injuries and communication with media and the public.
The crews return to base camp around 8:30 to eat. After dinner, they have to sharpen hand tools, set up camp and fully prepare to head back out the next day.
Around 10:00, 16 hours after the day begins, the firefighters and Team No. 4 staff head to their tents.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Howell said. “It’s pretty tiring – really low sleep hours during that two-week assignment, so when you get home, the next day is full-on recovery mode. You crash when you get home.”
In a press release, the incident management team said, "Please be cautious traveling through the area, particularly early in the mornings and late in the evenings as fire traffic will be heaviest."
Incident management team members sign up to work one year at a time. Some on Team No. 4 have worked 15 straight years.
Team members tend to have 10 to 35 years of fire management experience of different kinds. They work all day jobs back home. Some are with federal and state agencies, and many lead their local fire departments.
They can be called on short notice to fires, search-and-rescues and other emergencies. They work up to 14 days straight, except for “unusual circumstances” that can require another seven days.
When Team No. 4 took over management of the Parleys Canyon Fire Monday morning, it was 10% contained and 539 acres in size. By Monday evening, containment was up to 21%.
Howell credited the local agencies for a great response in the first two days, saying it put his team in a good position.
“The inter-agency cooperation has been amazing. The counties have really been involved. The state had a really solid game plan when we got here. We’re basically just executing the plan they started – we’re finishing what they started. Everybody seems to be really happy with the way things are going, and hopefully we can keep it that way.”
But everyone involved still has an enormous task on their hands to keep the fire from growing and, eventually, putting it out.
“This fire has a very high sense of urgency. Obviously, there are a lot of people affected. There are a lot of homes being threatened. There are a lot of communities at risk, a lot of values at risk,” Howell said.
In response to questions from the community about how to support firefighters, Howell said the team had everything it needed and could not accept donations. He suggested the American Red Cross as an organization they might consider donating to instead.